Friday, May 9, 2008

You Move Me

I used to have a pet theory that the geography one resided in affected one's psychology. It was nothing empirically provable, but seemed to be borne out anecdotally. And not being a scientist that was good enough for me. Turns out, though, that the idea is actually an area of scientific study called psychogeography. The Boston Globe explains: 
Where do all the neurotics live?
On the East Coast, of course. A psychological tour of the United States, in five maps.
Psychologists have shown that human personalities can be classified along five key dimensions: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience. And each of these dimensions has been found to affect key life outcomes from life expectancy and divorce to political ideology, job choices and performance, and innovation and creativity.

What's more, it turns out these personality types are not spread evenly across the country. They cluster. And how they cluster tells us much: What city someone might want to move to, the broader character of regions, and even the creative and economic futures of broad swaths of the nation.

Drawing on a database of hundreds of thousands of individual personality surveys compiled by psychologists Jason Rentfrow, Sam Gosling, and Jeff Porter, my team and I were able to map the distribution of personality types across the United States. The result is a fascinating new way of looking at the country's terrain.
The tricky bit, of course, is causality:
But what accounts for such psychogeographical clustering? One potential explanation is that people migrate to places where their psychological needs are easily met: Open people choose to live in places with hustle and bustle to satisfy that craving for new experiences, while conscientious people settle in places where the atmosphere is ordered to meet their need for predictability.

Or perhaps, personality is influenced by our surroundings. More emotionally stable people who live in places where neurotic types form the majority may become irritable and stressed because the people around them are getting to them.

Our research suggests another possibility as well: the link between personality and the willingness to move. Conscientious and agreeable types in particular are less likely to move. Once they find a place, they tend to spread out gradually over time. Extroverts, on the other hand, are much more likely to move over greater distances. Open-to-experience types are drawn to thrills and risk, and moving, after all, is one of life's biggest new experiences.
Regardless, it looks like an interesting field of study.

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